Point/Counterpoint: Good and Bad Fits at the Combine

The NFL world has been abuzz with the Scouting Combine for the last week or so as collegiate stars roll into Indianapolis to take their turn through the examination, interview and workout process.

As we count down to the NFL Draft in April, everything is still all up in the air and up for debate. Even on draft day, the experts’ big boards and draft predictions will be shuffling and changing with new information and developments. But at least with the Combine nearly behind us, we are one step closer to knowing the newest Buccaneers in 2013.

From 40 times and 3-cone shuffles, interviews and team needs, let’s go ahead and take a look at few of the incoming rookies who have been making some waves this week in Indy. We’ll take less of a point/counterpoint stance, and instead pose the question “Good Fit/Bad Fit” trying to see which rookies could make the biggest impact on the 2013 Bucs season.

I’ll let you have the floor first. Go ahead and name a prospect and let’s see how you think they’ll mesh (or not mesh) with the 2013 Buccaneers.

Scott Smith: So, the idea is to take a look at what we’ve seen in Indy over the last week and identify a player or two from the Combine we’d like to see the Buccaneers take in the draft, right?  I assume this is done with the usual understanding that any opinions we express here are not meant to reflect what the team’s actual personnel decision-makers are thinking.  (Though it would be cool if they did!)

I’ll skip the obvious and not choose Alabama CB Dee Milliner, who ran a blistering 40 (4.37 seconds) on Tuesday and who I firmly believe will be long gone before the 13th pick in the draft.  I’ll also resist the urge to take this well-dressed prospect, who accomplished his own sort of rare feat in the 40.

There were some other cornerbacks who looked good in Indy, and I can understand why so many mock drafts are matching us up with them, but I’m going to go in a slightly different direction.  Or a couple different directions, really.

The first name I’ll throw out there is Lane Johnson.  As much as an offensive line prospect can “intrigue” somebody, I’m intrigued by Johnson, and we’ve sure had good luck with OL and DL picks from the University of Oklahoma (Selmon, Joseph, McCoy).  This is a guy who was an all-state-level performer at QUARTERBACK in high school, and then a tight end to start his college career.  In 2010, he played both tight end and defensive end, and then in 2011 he finally moved to the offensive line.  He may not have been thrilled about that last move at the time, from what I read, but it has opened up a huge path to the top half of the first round of the NFL Draft for him.

Did I say “huge?”   That’s Johnson.  He’s something along the lines of 6-6 and 310 pounds, with the wide wingspan and the big hands that go along with it.  And he’s athletic as all get-out.  He’s had relatively little training at his position, and yet he was reportedly very reliable the last two years.  He actually has room to grow as a player.  The Buccaneers could draft him without necessarily having to stick him right into the starting lineup.  In a lot of mock drafts he’s showing up in the 10-15 pick range, which is in the Bucs’ territory at #13.  Johnson’s outstanding performance at the Combine (he was among the best O-linemen in the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap, the broad jump, the three-cone drill…virtually everything) might actually have priced him out of the Bucs’ spot, but I’d say there’s still a chance.

My second name is Alec Ogletree.  I’m not really going out on a limb here, as Ogletree has shown up as the Bucs’ first-round pick on a smattering of mock drafts.  Still, I like this idea a lot more after the Georgia linebacker had a nice, if not overwhelming, showing in Indianapolis.  On tape, Ogletree is just a playmaker, and the way he’s described by scouts reminds me of the way Lavonte David played last year as a rookie for the Bucs.  Imagine having two of those guys running around on your defense.  A former safety, he’s been described as “undersized” (6-2 and 242 isn’t really that small), but that’s never been a problem for Buccaneer linebackers.

Where Ogletree either helped or hurt his cause the most in Indy was in the evening interviews back at the players’ hotel, however.  He has some off-the-field red flags that could hurt his draft stock, but given that he is considered a top-10 talent by some, that might actually put him in the Bucs’ range, if they are interested.  I don’t know, obviously, how Ogletree handled himself in those closed-door meetings, or if he was able to satisfactorily answer questions about his incidents, but if he did he would be a very intriguing prospect to me.

My last choice kind of comes out of left field, mainly because you’ll go through a lot of mock drafts without ever seeing the Buccaneers paired up with a wide receiver.  I understand that.  It wasn’t exactly a position of weakness in 2012, with starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams tearing it up.  But imagine a third player wideout in that mix, with blazing speed and the ability to open up the field even more for Jackson and the other targets.  Plus, Austin is a very dangerous return man, and the Bucs have found those hard to find in recent years.

Remember that we’re not just talking about the first round here.  The Bucs also have picks #43 and #73 in the first three rounds.  I’m not suggesting that Austin would ever make it to #73, but maaaaaaaybe to #43?  If I cross my fingers?  Austin was showing up in the second round of a lot of mock drafts in February, but his extremely impressive showing in Indianapolis might change that.  Small, fast receivers don’t normally go in the first round (Kendall Wright was an exception last year), but Austin may have done enough to bump himself up into that range.  On the other hand, if the Bucs’ really wanted him – and, remember, this is just my speculation about an interesting, not any indication that they do – they have definitely shown that they’re not afraid to trade up to get their man.

Ugh.  I know that was awfully long.  Sorry.  It’s difficult not to get enthusiastic when you see these potential Buccaneer additions at the Combine.  So, who did you like, Andrew?

Andrew Norton: Well, first off, in a reaction to yours, I’d have to say that my favorite would be Alec Ogletree. Having someone with his talent running around with Lavonte David, with support from Mark Barron in the back and our NFL leading rush defense up front… that will be scary. Lane Johnson would be a great addition as well, but as you pointed out with Dee Milliner at the top, I’m having a hard time seeing him drop to the Bucs at 13.

I definitely didn’t see your Tavon Austin pick coming, but it is certainly intriguing. And I do think that after answering questions about his speed and especially by showing off his hands and position work, he could be flirting with the back of the first round. #43 might be a stretch, but we all know the Bucs are not afraid to jump around a bit to get someone they really like.

I’m all about drafting the most talented guy on the board, but at the same time, I feel that you need to balance your team needs into the equation. It is no secret that the Buccaneers biggest struggle last season was in their pass defense. And right now, I am looking at two different guys at two different positions that could be taken in the first two round and immediately provide an impact.

First is BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Right now, he is all over the boards in the first round in expert mock drafts: some have him going early, some have him falling toward the 20s, so I have to say there is a shot that he could be around at pick 13. He did have an incredible combine, showing massive athleticism with a 4.63 40-yard dash and highlighted his strength and footwork, so the possibility of him being off the board has increased slightly.

A serious issue in the pass defense last year for the Buccaneers wasn’t in the secondary, it was that there was difficulty getting to the quarterback. Having an end come in that is known for getting after the passer will help strengthen the secondary. Quarterbacks will have more pressure and less time in the pocket.

The Buccaneers do have a lot going for them on the line, but with Adrian Clayborn coming off injury and the possibility of Michael Bennett leaving in free agency, looking at an end does make some sense. Even if all three are healthy and active in 2013, Ansah can be brought in for passing situations as a specialist.

My second name would be Desmond Trufant, cornerback from the Washington Huskies. His name started popping up after a fantastic Senior Bowl week. He had great recognition, zone abilities and coverage skills. And knowing that he has had the tutelage of older brother Marcus, the Seattle cornerback, surely doesn’t hurt.

He added to his resume at the Combine as a top performer in the 40-yard dash and the 20-yard shuttle. While there is the chance that he could be a middle second-rounder, his performance in the past month has some experts saying he’ll flirt with the first day of the draft. But, we know that if the Buccaneers like something, they are not afraid to go after it. So there is some moving and shaking that could go on if the Buccaneers think that he really is something special.

I’ll now take a page out of your book and throw in a bit of a curveball by saying that I really like the idea of the Buccaneers finding Doug Martin a companion in this year’s draft. Martin had a stellar rookie season, making the Pro Bowl and putting up the third-most yards from scrimmage for a rookie in the history of the league. Not too shabby. He showed that he can be a workhorse, he can carry the load, but we all know the NFL is shifting toward a two-back system, and it seems for good reason. Bringing in a second back will help take Martin off the field some, and a complimentary back gives defenses something else to plan for.

A name that I really like who could be waiting around for us in a middle round is Le’Veon Bell from Michigan State. Bell himself proved to be a workhorse last year, carrying the ball 382 times for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. This came one year after a 13-touchdown performance. At 6’1” 230 pounds, he has a very different build than Martin and can help the Buccaneers in an area they struggled with in 2012, short-yardage situations.

Bell is a bruiser, a north-south runner who can push and fight for those hard yards. He’s not a big receiver out of the backfield, and he will need to work on his pass protection, but as a third or potentially fourth-round selection, that is alright. You are still getting a guy who can come in, contribute immediately, and improve an offense that was already among the NFL’s most explosive last season.

So, those are my big three that I’m high on right now. Of course you’ve got a ton more names, and a lot of experts are calling for a cornerback in the first round. But with the creativity and the vast efficiency that Mark Dominik and company have displayed over the last few years, I trust whatever they go with wholeheartedly. Moving on, who do you not see making the NFL in red and pewter next season? Any names stand out?

Scott Smith: Yeah, Ansah was the talk of the Combine with his blistering 40-yard dash and his great time in the 20-yard shuttle, not to mention a performance at the podium that had the media in his back pocket.  I’d be worried that, at 6-5 and 270 pounds and with speed to burn that he will become a top target of the 3-4 teams who want to find another Aldon Smith.  Still, I’m on board with that one, and I don’t really care about any of the Bucs’ other situations at defensive end; you can never have enough pass-rushers.

Don’t have much to add on Trufant or Bell – you went deeper into the well of prospects than I did and I’ll just have to take your word on those two.

As for the second question, it’s a trickier one.  I don’t want to be the one who disses a prospect only to see the Bucs call his name on April 25!  That said, I guess I would be a little more leery about Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore after his week at the Combine.  I know most analysts were disappointed with his 4.95 40-yard dash and his 12 reps at the bench press, and others have questioned his work ethic.  Now, again, Moore could erase those numbers with a better showing at the Aggies’ Pro Day, and for all we know his closed-door interviews with the Buccaneers and/or other teams cleared up any motivational issues.  Still, that week in Indy did him no favors.

Some think the Buccaneers will consider a tight end in the first two days of this year’s draft if Dallas Clark departs.  I suppose that’s possible, and it’s a relatively deep class this year, but I might shy away from Stanford’s Zach Ertz.  His Combine efforts didn’t quite match up to last year’s Stanford tight end, Coby Fleener, and Fleener didn’t exactly tear up the NFL for the Colts as a rookie.  Also, while I argued above for Tavon Austin, I have a hard time seeing the Bucs go for another big, #1 type of receiver with Jackson and Williams in place.  Thus, I’ll take Cordarrelle Patterson and Keenan Allen off my list after neither blew me away at the Combine (Allen actually didn’t do any of the drills).

Andrew Norton: Well thank you sir. I am concerned about Ansah being off the board before 13. But again, that’s what you have to love about the NFL Draft. It is so fluid that things are changing right up until the name is announced.

I have to agree with you that Damontre Moore has to be the biggest dropper based on his combine performance. A lot of questions were raised with that performance, but as we’ve said, it comes down to a lot more than just Combine numbers. I also want to note your tight end comment. Ertz did take a bit of a hit here, especially considering that it is a deep position in this draft, but that did make Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert look that much better.

I do feel like I need to throw out the biggest name of the Combine while we’re on this topic: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Steering clear of the obvious reason as to why he was a big draw, he did not have an impressive Combine on the field. He had the chance to quiet the critics but only posted a 4.82 in the 40-yard dash and didn’t really display any quickness or elite athleticism to go along with his undersized frame.

This is of course not to say that Te’o will not be a great player in game situations. But it would seem that he dropped quite considerably. Will someone take him in the first round? Yeah, probably. But at this point, I think he has a lot to work on to get to the next level, and will not be able to come in and immediately affect the team like you would want a first-rounder to do. At #13, I don’t think he will be the best player available, and a more effective player could be found, be it a pass rusher, cornerback or lineman.

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